MLB free agency starts on Monday, which means things are about to get very interesting, chaotic, exciting, and potentially disappointing for the San Francisco Giants.
Naturally, my response to this incoming free agency period is to embark on an impossible task: ranking the likelihood that all of the players currently on the 40-man roster will stay on it.
Many of the following players will not, if for no other reason than the fact that the Giants currently have 44 players on their 40-man roster, and the quartet of 60-Day Injured List exceptions will expire when free agency begins. Some players will leave in free agency, some will be traded, and some will be waived. And replacing them will be free agent signings, trade acquisitions, and Rule 5 Draft protections.
What follows is not a list ranking how good those 44 players are. I need to repeat that: what follows is not a list ranking how good those 44 players are.
Instead, it’s a list ranking how likely each player is to still be on the 40-man roster when the team convenes again in Spring Training this February. A player’s talent matters for that equation, yes, but so does their contract status, their positional importance, their spot on the depth chart, and their trade value.
That’s what makes this impossible. We could all rank the 44 players based on ability to play baseball, and we’d probably end up with fairly similar rankings. But attempting to rank how likely they are to still be here in three-and-a-half months is not only less objective, but reliant on a lot of information that we can only speculate on.
And that’s why this is so fun.
For the purpose of making this article easier to read and more informative, I’ve lumped the 44 players into 14 tiers. My rankings would probably alter slightly without the tiers boxing players in, but every player is pretty darn close to where they would be regardless. And this list would change if I wrote it in an hour or a day, so picking the nits of a few places just doesn’t accomplish much.
Every tier has at least two players, except one. I’ll explain when we get there. Which is right now!
Tier 14: Can we interest you in a Minor League deal?
44. Roberto Pérez
I initially intended for this to have two players on it: Pérez and Mark Mathias. But when I looked at the Giants 40-man roster, Mathias was mysteriously absent.
Then I checked their transactions page, where I found the first player transaction of the offseason: Mathias has been outrighted to AAA Sacramento.
Pérez impressed the Giants last year, but there’s zero chance that he stays on the 40-man. Not only do the Giants have a starter and a backup at catcher (to make no mention of Joey Bart), but no one is going to give a guaranteed deal to a 35-year old catcher who has played a total of 70 games over the last three seasons. I could see the Giants giving him a Minor League deal so that they have some depth at camp and a veteran option if Patrick Bailey or Blake Sabol gets injured, but that’s it.
Tier 13: So long, friends
43. Alex Wood
42. Brandon Crawford
41. Joc Pederson
As the end of the season neared, I was torn between dueling ideas. I simultaneously thought Pederson was the most likely and least likely Giant to return. It seemed so obvious that he would be gone, but ... you could also see them re-signing him on the first day of free agency, right?
That sentiment is no more. The Giants can post pictures of him at San Jose Sharks games while he’s still technically employed, but come free agency he’s as good as gone. I think it’s abundantly clear that a platoon designated hitter is not something the Giants will be pursuing again anytime soon.
Wood and Crawford don’t need much explanation. Gabe Kapler’s firing would make Wood more interested in returning, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want to be here anymore, and it seems equally clear that the front office doesn’t want him around.
Godspeed, DJ BC Raw.
Tier 12: These players would be good on the Giants but they won’t be on the Giants
40. Jakob Junis
39. Scott Alexander
Two pitchers who are better than you think they are, but entering free agency. These players will make their respective teams better. If they’re on the Giants, that’s fine; they deserve to be somewhere.
There’s also no reason for either of them to be there. Even with Wood leaving, even if Sean Manaea opts out, and even if the Giants designated Sean Hjelle for assignment, the team still has a comical number of stretch relievers/spot starters/multi-inning relievers. Call them whatever you want; the Giants have them. So there’s really just no need to give money to Junis when the Giants have cheaper in-house options that also have ... options.
The same is true for Alexander, but deeper in the bullpen. It’s easier to see him sticking around because trusty left-handed relievers don’t grow on trees. But the Giants are likely to have a pretty full bullpen that’s shy on options and Alexander was awful down the stretch.
Tier 11: You’re probably opting out, aren’t you
38. Michael Conforto
37. Sean Manaea
This will be perhaps the most controversial tier. A lot of people believe Conforto and Manaea will opt in, and won’t think that having them as some of the most likely players to be gone is accurate. It’s here where I remind you of something that might be comforting or might be terrifying.
The vast majority of the players on the Giants 40-man roster today will still be on the Giants 40-man roster in February.
There ain’t gonna be a lot of turnover, folks. Even if you put Manaea and Conforto at 25% odds to opt-out, that still makes them among the most likely Giants to leave.
That said, I genuinely think they’ll opt out. The market for outfielders is thin, and I can’t imagine Scott Boras is eager to watch Lourdes Gurriel Jr. get $55 million without seeing what he can do with Conforto. And Manaea was sneakily good last year beyond the ERA — he had a 3.90 FIP and the highest strikeout rate of his career — and put together a strong showing at the end of the season.
Manaea is more likely to stay for two reasons. First, as wild as this is to say, 2023 was the first year of his career playing for a manager other than Bob Melvin. And second, I think the Giants are fairly indifferent on his decision. If he opts in, I think they’ll be fine with that. If Conforto opts in, I think they’ll at least pick up the phone and see if anyone is upset that he didn’t opt out.
Tier 10: Probably nervous every time the phone rings
36. David Villar
35. Joey Bart
34. Sean Hjelle
It’s pretty common to think that players like these three are not valued by the Giants brass. But as the great Roger Munter is fond of saying, every player on the 40-man roster is valued, or else they wouldn’t be there. And that’s doubly true for this trio, who have stayed on the 40-man for, in order, one-and-a-half, two, and four seasons.
But they’re probably running out of time.
Villar is most likely to go. Not only did he struggle mightily in the Majors last year, but he wasn’t very good in the Minors, either. Late season promotions made it clear that the team values Casey Schmitt and Tyler Fitzgerald more than Villar, who will be 27 when Spring Training starts. There just isn’t a path for him to have a real opportunity.
In a vacuum, Bart has the most value. He’s an above-average defensive catcher at the MLB level, and still has a lot of raw power. But that value, mixed with his lack of options, is why I think he’ll be traded this offseason.
Hjelle is the most likely to stick around. He has options and the ability to work in relief or as a starter, making him a useful piece in the rotating cast of arms. Hjelle also apparently looks a lot better in advanced stats that are not publicly available, and he has good predictive stats at the MLB level, with a 3.89 FIP set against his ugly 6.17 ERA.
Do the Giants think the former number is more indicative than the latter? Do they trade other swingman-type players? Do they protect Kai-Wei Teng or Trevor McDonald in the Rule 5 Draft? All of those impact Hjelle’s future.
Tier 9: You’re awesome, but...
33. Randy Rodríguez
32. José Cruz
The Giants ended the season with 45 players on the 40-man roster. These two are the only players among those 45 who have never played in the Majors.
They’re also the last of a dying breed: I’d be pretty surprised if Farhan Zaidi protects a High-A reliever from the Rule 5 Draft again anytime soon. The Giants clearly want the 40-man roster to have as many players as possible who can contribute at the MLB level, and it feels like both of these righties are still a ways off.
I give Cruz a better chance of sticking given how glaring Rodríguez’s walk issue was this year.
Tier 8: You’re good! We want you back! But...
31. John Brebbia
30. Austin Slater
Brebbia is a very good reliever. Slater is a very good fourth outfielder. I’m not sure how much the Giants need those things.
San Francisco has a good bullpen with or without Brebbia, who will be a free agent. With the team eyeing star talent with their finite offseason resources, I’m not comfortable predicting any free agency money being doled out to a reliever.
Slater is entering his final year of arbitration, and tendering him a contract is a no-brainer. But with the team dramatically needing to upgrade the outfield, while being saddled with Mitch Haniger’s contract, and wanting to give opportunities to fellow righties Fitzgerald, Luis Matos, and Heliot Ramos, I’m just not sure Slater’s role as a weak-side platoon bat is worth making a spot for.
Tier 7: These talented young relievers are injured
29. Cole Waites
28. Thomas Szapucki
One of my favorite baseball rules is that players on the 60-Day IL don’t count against the 40-player cap to the roster. One of my least favorite baseball rules is that those players need to be taken off the 60-Day IL, and thus reinstated to the 40-man roster when the offseason begins, regardless of health status.
Waites recently underwent Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch until 2025. Szapucki missed the entire 2023 season after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, and it’s entirely unclear what his health status is.
The Giants could release either player and they would be overwhelmingly likely to clear waivers and be outrighted. But many view that as a dirty move, and much has been made of how the Giants plucked Darien Núñez from the Dodgers after they did exactly that.
My gut says the Giants keep both players around until they can be placed on the 60-Day IL once more. But sometimes push comes to shove.
Tier 6: We really don’t want to trade you, but we will
27. Casey Schmitt
26. Tristan Beck
25. Heliot Ramos
24. Ryan Walker
23. LaMonte Wade Jr.
This one’s pretty straightforward. It’s controversial and debatable and I’m sure everyone’s view will be quite different, but it’s pretty straightforward. The Giants have no desire to trade Schmitt, Beck, Ramos, or Walker. But I can pretty much promise you that you’re not going to read a tweet from Jeff Passan in December saying, The Giants-Padres trade involving Juan Soto fell apart because San Francisco was unwilling to include Tristan Beck in the deal.
I’m putting Schmitt as most likely to go because he probably has the most trade value, and you can see the Giants swinging for the fences.
Wade is more of an arguing point, but as a single-position platoon player, it’s also easy to see the Giants leveraging his Major League value in a trade. Wilmer Flores would be a pretty good everyday first baseman. So would JD Davis, for that matter. Or Rhys Hoskins. Or Pete Alonso...
Tier 5: You’re here, barring a trade that probably can’t or won’t happen
22. Ross Stripling
21. Anthony DeSclafani
20. JD Davis
19. Mitch Haniger
If the Giants could get someone to take Stripling’s contract for free, they would. If they could get someone to take DeSclafani’s contract for free, they would consider it.
They’re not upset to enter the season with those players, so I doubt they look to give up anything valuable just to get rid of them. But it’s also not the ideal way to use $24.5 million, so there’s a wide margin in which the price would be right.
Davis is a good player and well worth the contract he’ll be tendered in arbitration. He’s the only one on this list with positive trade value, but he fell apart down the stretch and I’m not sure how much value he has as a utility player. If the Giants sign Matt Chapman or trade for Nolan Arenado, Davis probably has to be traded.
And then there’s Haniger. Fans want him gone, but his backloaded contract makes that a very tricky thing to do, unless it’s part of a bigger trade. I’m also not convinced the Giants want him gone: he was very good prior to his injury-marred 2023, and he offers a bump of power that the team simply doesn’t have anywhere else.
Tier 4: I doubt anyone values you as much as we do
18. Mike Yastrzemski
17. Brett Wisely
16. Wilmer Flores
15. Tyler Fitzgerald
14. Blake Sabol
There are three truths for all of these players: the Giants don’t want to get rid of them; the Giants would be more than willing to get rid of them; and it’s highly unlikely that any other team values them enough to tempt the Giants into getting rid of them.
I’m having a hard time seeing San Francisco keep Slater and Yaz, and it’s an easy pick between the two: Yastrzemski is the strong side of the platoon, the better player, and a more integral leader, plus the bulk of the outfield prospects hit right-handed.
Fans might be low on Wisely but the Giants are not. He had a phenomenal 2023 in the Minors, and is a left-handed hitter who plays a high-quality second base and center field, with a competent shortstop, while being younger than Schmitt and just a few days older than Bailey. With minimal middle infield upgrades available, that’s a talent you can’t give up on.
It’s probably surprising to see Flores here. But the Giants probably view his 2023 as something of an outlier, and he’s a slow and unathletic player who is very limited defensively. The plan might be to have him be a full-time DH or first baseman next year, but what if they get Alonso or Shohei Ohtani?
Fitzgerald probably still has work to do to break camp with the team, but I can’t imagine he has trade value right now and the Giants clearly are high on him. For the way they value versatility, his ceiling is simply miles above his trade value.
And if there is a person on the planet who values a left-handed hitting catcher/outfielder who can pinch run and who has options more than Zaidi does, well ... I’d like to meet them.
Tier 3: Make us an offer we can’t refuse
13. Keaton Winn
12. Kyle Harrison
11. Luis Matos
10. Wade Meckler
9. Camilo Doval
8. Thairo Estrada
7. Marco Luciano
At this point we’re probably into “hop into the comments to yell at me about how wrong this is.” This tier was incredibly hard to rank, so I doubt I’ll find anyone who agrees with me but again: this is why this is such a fun exercise.
Stating that Harrison is only the 12th-most likely player to be on the roster next year is not what any fan wants to hear. But he’s undoubtedly either the second or third most valuable Giant as a trade asset and, unlike the other two players in that conversation, he’s not untouchable. We learned that last offseason Harrison was untouchable for Sean Murphy, but Juan Soto is not Sean Murphy. He’s the biggest trade chip that they’d actually entertain trading, which means his name will come up if the try to make a splash.
If some team really likes Matos, it’s easy to see the Giants moving him. They’re targeting center fielders in free agency, which would move Matos to a weaker position. Meckler, Ramos, and Fitzgerald are on the 40-man roster, with Grant McCray and Victor Bericoto not far off. If the price is right ...
Meckler also belongs in the “I doubt anyone values you as much as we do” category ... but the gap between how much the Giants value him and how much everyone else does is large enough that he’s nearly off the table, from a practical standpoint.
I have no idea what to think of Winn. Is he viewed as an older prospect with not much of a track record who everyone thinks they have seven of already? Or is he viewed as a high-90s strike thrower with a 70-grade splitter, a body built for seven-inning starts, and six years of team control? Which of those things do the Giants think and which do the other teams think?
Doval and Estrada are core parts of the team, but so was Matt Duffy when he was traded. If the Giants want to trade for a star on a non-rebuilding team, like Soto, Alonso, José Ramírez, or Fernando Tatis Jr., then they’ll probably have to part with some MLB talent. Probably won’t happen, but it could.
As for Luciano being so far above Harrison? Well, the Giants clearly value Harrison more. But the team figures to be active chasing free agents that play the same position as Harrison, and they have a whole cast of intriguing upper Minors starting pitcher prospects, too. You could make the case that the best free agent shortstops this year are Brandon Crawford and Paul DeJong, and don’t check on the team’s prospects at the position unless you own Aeverson Arteaga stock. So Luciano is the rare player who is both a top prospect and virtually irreplacable.
Tier 2: Veteran relievers under contract
6. Luke Jackson
5. Taylor Rogers
4. Tyler Rogers
It’s at this point that I remind you that this list is not a ranking of the players on the 40-man roster. The Giants would easily rather have Luciano or Harrison than all three of these pitchers combined, and you can probably throw another 10 or so names in there.
But relievers simply don’t have much trade value unless it’s the deadline and you’re preying on a desperate team. If this were the NBA, where salaries have to match, all three of these pitchers could be trade bait. As it is, all three are quality players that the Giants are very happy to employ, and who would get them pennies on the dollar if traded.
Tier 1: The locks
3. Alex Cobb
2. Patrick Bailey
1. Logan Webb
You might be surprised to see Cobb’s name on this list, given that he’s a mid-30s pitcher who just underwent surgery and is entering the final year of his contract, for which the team holds an option. But those are all reasons why he has limited trade value. And there are a million reasons why he does have Giants value.
When healthy, Cobb is an All-Star caliber pitcher who helps solidify a rotation that the Giants are desperate to solidify. He’s the exact type of competitor and leader that they’re prioritizing, wildly respected in the clubhouse, and both a mentor and close friend to Webb. He helps them recruit Ohtani. He’s a perfect teammate. I just don’t see any way that he’s not on the team next year.
Bailey is like Luciano, except with proven talent and leadership. He’s proven to be a quality Major League catcher for a team that doesn’t have any other option, in a year where the best free agent at the position is Mitch Garver. You won’t hear a single person on the coaching staff or on the pitching staff say a negative thing about Bailey. He’s untouchable.
As for Webb ... what needs to be said? He’s a perennial Cy Young candidate who has emerged as not just the best player on the team, but also their leader. Still a few weeks away from his 27th birthday, and under team control through 2028, he fits the timeline perfectly. He’s extremely competitive, beloved by teammates, on a team-friendly deal, and the first homegrown star pitcher since Madison Bumgarner.
No more needs to be said.